Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer
The Farewell To Middle-earth Issue
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe: Get 12 Issues For £25
Buy the perfect Christmas present this year
Farewell To Middle-earth
Full details of our Peter Jackson-edited issue
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 09:54 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Oh. My. God. This blog was meant to be about The Runaways, in which Kristen Stewart plays Joan Jett and has a lesbian love scene with Dakota Fanning while crossing gender lines and snorting cocaine in a tragic-sweet biopic celebrating the life and times of the 70s all-girl rock band of the same name. That seemed a story enough... until the lights came up on Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1952 pulp novel in which a smalltown Texas cop becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly psychopathic murders. It began with an amazing retro credits sequence and ended with a woman, shaking with rage, asking why this film was chosen for the festival. In between, Winterbottom's latest provocation made Chris Morris's Four Lions seem quite mild in comparison, creating a compelling study of madness that had the audience gasping and the people behind me wondering aloud (in the way that everybody in Sundance wonders aloud) if the film would ever see the light of day in America.

I'll say up front that the film had some technical problems: the sound (or was it the acoustics?) seemed off, and star Casey Affleck's reedy voice frequently got lost in the mix. This made the film somewhat hard to follow, as it starts in a low-key, talky, noir fashion, with Affleck's Lou Ford being sent across town by his boss to send a local prostitute packing. He doesn't; instead, Ford embarks on a brutal S&M affair with her that suddenly turns dark in a way that will immediately raise hackles. I'd rather not go too much into plot, but they then plan a blackmail sting on a local business mogul, threatening to expose his seedy son if a ransom isn't paid. This is is the basic premise, and it sounds fairly standard, like the usual neo-noir stuff: it could be the Wachowski brothers' Bound, maybe, or one of John Dahl's films from when he was actually good.

But what's not very standard, however, is the violence. Though it is initially suggested rather than shown, in scenes that find Ford behaving more than a bit erratically, the cruelty in this film goes way beyond the endurance level of the average viewer. Blue Velvet this is not; there is no artful surrealism, just bleak, bloody and unjustifiable punishment, most of it (but not only) directed against women. And that's not all. Those women seem not just to endure it but to enjoy it, as much as they love the closed-off, sick, and sexually aberrant Ford – who, after all, is the person telling us this. The fact that these women are played by Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba only compounded the horror that seemed to ricochet around the auditorium, while the homely, hillbilly radio tunes on the score, plus Marcel Zyskind's pristine cinematography, put it all in a slick, plausible period setting.

I think I need to see the film again to know for sure how I feel about it, but twice after the lights came up I heard snarky audience members mention the words “American” and “Psycho”, each time in a tone of voice suggesting that this was nothing new. Well, Jim Thompson dealt in first-person wacko narratives well before Bret Easton Ellis, and – duh – in American Psycho, violence was a metaphor for the venal, self-serving economics of the United States in Ronald Reagan's wake. The Killer Inside Me, however, is about real violence, about real insanity, and the mental confusion that turns love upside down and destroys everything in its wake. I'm still not sure that I got it all, but from what I think I saw, I'm prepared to say that I think The Killer Inside Me, like Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, is an incredibly effectively and chilling exploration of mental breakdown, aided by a gripping central performance from Affleck as Ford, the killer on the road whose brain really IS squirming like a toad. Maybe if I see it again it might break the spell, but for now Winterbottom's film has followed me home and won't leave my brain alone. I'm far too old to be saying this, but I think The Killer Inside Me is badass. In all the best, right and wrong ways.

Login or register to comment.


1 Manfrendshensindshen
Posted on Wednesday January 27, 2010, 16:00
Was the experience so extreme that Mr Wise is now in therapy? I'm asking because Sundance updates are conspicuous by their absence...

2 Damon_Wise
Posted on Wednesday January 27, 2010, 16:18
Just busy, man! I've seen Welcome To The Rileys, Frozen, Smash His Camera, Teenage Parazzo, The Extra Man, Cyrus, Winter's Bone, Twelve... Buried and Exit Through The Gift Shop today; all reports coming as soon I get the time...

3 zoots
Posted on Friday January 29, 2010, 01:06
oooooh! yet another conveniently titillating 'controversial' film that sexualizes violence against women (where's gaspar noe?) and we're SHOCKED. another director pushing that tired old envelope. it's only shocking in the way getting punched in the face is always shocking but under the surface it's about as conformist as it gets. fraudulent film-making.

4 Damon_Wise
Posted on Friday January 29, 2010, 08:25
Did you see it? I'm happy to discuss it with you if you have. I don't agree.

5 Coldpie
Posted on Wednesday February 3, 2010, 09:54
I know that most often movies and their directors find other things to fixate on etc when they are translating books for screen, but having read your review its sounds that the director was very very faithful.
i find the shock that audiences feel to be a good thing as watching violence of this kind should never be easy, but the reaction of many who believe instantly that its overtly sexualising violence against women, i think they are massively missing the point.
the argument has been around for so long -and with good reason- but it has then become a shield that stops many from seeing when the violence on the screen is indicative of the lengths the character's mental sickness goes. its automatically taken that its sick gratification whereas in the book and hopfully the movie its about a very real mental abberation that is able to go about disguised in society dispite the shocking things he does.
i think the book and certainly the movie should be read from this point of view, if you go in thinking- just another american psycho or here we go more sexy violence then you'll miss the chance to watch a fantastic actor, Affleck, immerse himself in the psychology of a psychopath, the lengths he'll go and the things he finds not only normal but exciting and necessary. go in watching the character and ask why is he doing that, dont go in to find cliche's.

6 shalmo
Posted on Wednesday May 26, 2010, 07:38
I would recommend seeing it again as the tension from a largely right wing American audience must have been palpable!
I felt Greengrass' lack of trust in his audience by showing everything undermined a film that was stylistically beautiful. Go back and see a classic noir and the beauty of the genre is the suggestion and what is implied. Showing the level of violence that Greengrass does just displays his voyeuristic nature and lack of skill. I haven't read the book but I know the genre and I felt robbed.
I hope Affleck limits the psycho roles as well. He is a very talented actor with enormous range - fabulous in Gone Baby Gone. Just want to see more of him.
A good film that could have been great had Greengrass trusted us more.

7 vorknyx
Posted on Wednesday May 26, 2010, 10:51
In fairness, the movie is directed by Micheal Winterbottom, not the excellent Paul Greengrass. Will reserve judgement until watching it, but Winterbottoms previous 'controversial' movies were explicit but seemed to have little point to make, and for that matter were not explicit in either an erotic sense or in a way that offered insight into characters. Leaving a bit more to suggestion would have taken nothing away yet made the film(s) a little more accessible (but as pointed out, requires more film making skill).

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


Screen To Stage: The Hobbit Stars
By Helen O'Hara

Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
By Helen O'Hara

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
By Ali Plumb

Pete Docter And Jonas Rivera Talk Pixar's Inside Out
By James White

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
By Dan Jolin

H. R. Giger: An Empire Tribute
By Ian Nathan

How Edible Cinema Finally Allows You To Eat A Movie
By Ali Plumb

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
By Helen O'Hara

Are iPads And Smartphones Changing The Face Of Filmmaking?
By Ben Kirby

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
By Helen O'Hara


Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
"Have just re-watched this twice over the past few weeks and forgot how fantastic it was. I'm now des"  fire_and_water5025
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"This looks unbelievably good... wish I could afford to go!"  Roo
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Nice to know Martin enlisted another author to help in his world-building. Time to get acquainted wi"  Imperion
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
" The original Hogwarts section and what was duelling dragons (has now"  Sexual Harassment Panda
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Actually i recomend The Foucault Pendulum for several reasons, in the first place it explores the es"  andresfelipeurb
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"A great sneak peek, Ali. Aside from your confusion as to where Diagon Alley/King's Cross and Hogsmea"  bruciebonus
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"im due to go in October this year and having been before, i can honestly say i cannot wait. I agree "  kopite
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"still think it's a shame that they didn't make this in England. imagine getting the Hogwarts Express"  RX78
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"Were you actually there Ali? If so, surely you know that Marvel Land is Islands of Adventure and not"  Y2Neildotcom
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"I did the exact same thing with the books after season 1(even though I'd promissed myself to just re"  manufan
Read comment


Movies’ Most Quotable Lines

'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies

Competitive Geek Baiting: Or, How To Start A Fanboy Fight

The Avatar Backlash: Evaluatin' The Hater-atin'

The Complete List Of Tired Movie Cliches

Your Favourite Animated Film

Note To Hollywood: How To Get People To Switch To Blu-Ray

Food For Thought

The Ten Moviegoing Commandments

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Damon Wise (298)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)


Get the best seat in the house by subscribing to the world's biggest movie magazine today. Save up to 69% and every month you'll get exclusive subscriber-only covers, access to the biggest stars and the best news, reviews and behind-the-scenes reports straight from the set. Click here to find the perfect offer for you

Watch: Night At The Museum's Cast Share Their Favourite Robin Williams Performance
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Ben Kingsley pay tribute to the actor

Watch: Jack O'Connell And Luke Treadaway Talk Unbroken
On POWs, panto and how to name your bomber

Review Of 2014: The 15 Best Cameos Of The Year
Our favourite one-scene movie-stealers

8 Things You Can Learn From The BFI's Star Wars Exhibition
The original crawl, a 'grotesque' villain and a very different princess

Review Of The Year: 40 Worst Posters Of 2014
One-sheets that you'd rather not have on your wall

Hobbit Q&As: Ian McKellen On Finally Saying Goodbye And Farewell To Gandalf The Grey
Read our exclusive Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies interviews

Review Of 2014: The Best TV Moments Of The Year
We celebrate the small screen's biggest scenes

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)